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Overcoming the odds

Priceless lessons can be found on the diamond

By Kurt Rabin

EARLY  on in “Imperfect,” the autobiography of his  life in baseball, former big-league pitcher Jim Abbott, 44, imparts a couple of lessons he learned from Don Welke, the major league scout who kept an eye on the fireballing lefty during his high school years. The first was “Anytime you see a guy do something easy, you better pay attention.” And the second, “There are no absolutes in baseball.”

There was nothing easy about what Abbott did on the mound. You see, Abbott, who joined the California Angels’ starting rotation without ever having thrown a pitch in the minor leagues, was born without a right hand. Even though things such as pickoff moves proved challenging for Abbott, he would go on to throw for four MLB teams during a 10-year career. The summary line on his stats shows him losing more games than he won, but with one startling performance, he gained entry into a select group of athletes: pitchers who have tossed a no-hitter.

Abbott’s no-hitter came in 1993 versus the Cleveland Indians, when the 25-year-old was wearing Yankees pinstripes, and its retelling forms the backbone of the fascinating, highly literate “Imperfect.” (The recounting of another expertly thrown contest by a Yankee, Don Larsen’s 1956 World Series perfect game, is the basis for another recent best-seller, “Perfect” (2009), by Lew Paper.)

Abbott, who was raised in Flint, Mich., attended the University of Michigan before becoming a baseball gold-medalist in the 1988 Summer Olympic Games. Drafted by the Angels that year, he experienced early success in majors. However, things turned rocky a few years later when he lost velocity on his fastball. Unable to smoothly transition from a power pitcher to a finesse one, he got sent down to the minors and was released before eventually staging a successful comeback.

Along the way, the lefty’s agent, Scott Boras, suggested that he meet with legendary sports performance specialist Harvey Dorfman, from whom Abbott learned that “I didn’t have to apologize for the way I was born, least of all to myself, and it was not for me to comfort others because of it.” Dorfman recommended that he read award-winning “All the Pretty Horses” author Cormac McCarthy, who once wrote: “Those who have endured some misfortune will always be set apart but  it is just that misfortune which is their gift and which is their strength.”

There might be no absolutes in baseball. But don’t tell that to Jim Abbott, who has been—and today, as a motivational speaker, continues to be—an absolute inspiration to others.

Kurt Rabin  is a copy editor  for The Free Lance–Star.


By Jim Abbott and Tim Brown

(Ballantine, $26, 304 pp.)


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